King Arthur, Rhitta Gawr and The King’s Whiskers

© 03/02/2021 zteve t evans

The Mantle of Kings’ Beards

Many, many years ago, in the time of King Arthur, when our ruler’s beards were greater than their commonsense, there were two other kings named Nynio and Peibo.  Each ruled over a fine and rich kingdom and their subjects enjoyed peace and prosperity.  The two kings were friends and liked to go walking in the countryside in the evenings.  They would often indulge in friendly banter trying to out do each other bragging about their accomplishments or possessions to one another.  Most of the time this was just good-natured teasing but on one occasion things got wildly out of hand.  One evening as they were out strolling, as the stars were appearing, Nynio looked about and making an extensive gesture to the sky with his hands said,

Look above and all around, Peibo, my friend, see what a wonderful and extensive field I possess!”

Peibo looked all around the sky and asked, “Well now, where is it?”

“It is there, above and around as far as eyes can see, the entire sky is my field and mine alone,” boasted Nynio with pride.

“Oh, is that so? answered Peibo.

“It is,” said Nynio.

“Well, now,” said Peibo, not wanting to be out done, “Can you see all of the great herds of cattle and flocks of sheep that are in that field and grazing.  Each and every animal is mine and mine alone.”

 “I see no herds of cattle, I see no flocks of sheep,” replied Nynio.

“Look harder,” replied Peibo “they are the great swathe of stars that stretch across the sky with smaller herds and flocks scattered here and there.  See how each one shines with gold or silvery brightness.  See how the moon, their beautiful shepherdess guards and takes care of them for me and me alone!”

“It is my field and they shall not graze in my field,” replied Nynio indignantly.

‘Yes they shall,” replied Peibo firmly.

“They most certainly shall not!” replied Nynio angrily.

Both kings were now becoming very heated and angry with each other and became possessed by a madness.

“Shall!” snapped Peibo.

“Shan’t!” Shouted Nynio.

“‘Tis war!”  They both cried together.

In their madness they returned to their kingdoms, mustered their armies and wrought bloody and merciless war on each other.  Both kingdoms were laid waste as both armies fought each other in a cruel and merciless war of attrition.   The fighting only stopped because of the sheer exhaustion of the two sides.  There was no victor save foolishness and what were once two fine and prosperous kingdoms lay in smoking ruins with the people left traumatized and starving.

The King of Wales, a giant named Rhitta Gawr, heard about the madness of the two kings and how they had destroyed their own fair and prosperous kingdoms through their foolishness. He consulted with his wise men and his barons and it was agreed that they should take advantage of the present weakness of these once strong and prosperous kingdoms.   Therefore, he mobilized his army and invaded and conquered the two broken kingdoms, capturing the two monarchs and cutting their beards off to teach them a lesson.

News that Rhitta Gawr had invaded and conquered the two warring kingdoms spread throughout the island of Britain and reached the ears of twenty-eight kings.  They were appalled at the foolishness of  Nynio and Peibo and the wanton destruction of the two kingdoms and outraged by the invasion of Rhitta Gawr.  However, what really made them angry was the shaving of the royal whiskers of the two mad kings by the giant.   They deemed inflicting this humiliation on two monarchs, despite their foolishness, had gone too far.  Therefore, to avenge what they saw as a degrading and humiliating act on two of their own status they united their armies and declared war on Rhitta Gawr. The battle was long and bloody and Rhitta Gawr eventually defeated the coalition of kings and had them brought before him.

“Look around, look upon the Earth and look around the skies.  All you see is my vast field.  All the herds and flocks, all the pastures are mine!” he told them in jubilation.  With no further ado or ceremony he ordered the royal whiskers of the defeated kings to be shaved off completely.

News spread beyond Britain of the victory of Rhitta Gawr and how he had shaved the beards of his enemies. The kings of twenty-eight neighboring realms were outraged.  Not so much at the initial mad foolishness of Nynio and Peibo, or the defeat of the twenty-eight kings.  No, it was the shaving of the royal whiskers that outraged them and they merged their armies and attacked Rhitta Gawr. The battle was ferocious and bloody but once again Rhitta Gawr defeated and captured his enemies and once again jubilantly declared,

 “Look around, look upon the Earth and look around the skies.  All you see is my vast field.  All the herds and flocks, all the pastures are mine!”

With no further ceremony he ordered that the beards of the defeated be cut off.  When they had all been shaved clean he stood before them and addressing his own troops pointed at the beardless, defeated, kings and declared, 

“See, these animals that once grazed here!  These are now my pastures and I now drive them out and they shall graze here no more!”

Rhitta Gawr now possessed the beards of a sizeable number of kings which made a sizeable pile of whiskers and somehow, for some reason a very strange idea came into his head.  Somehow, the notion grew on him that he would use the pile of royal whiskers to make a fancy mantle to wear around his shoulders.  He believed he would look very elegant and magnificent and the cloak being made from the whiskers of kings he had defeated would emphasize his own power and glory. 

The more he thought about it the more obsessed  he became with the idea while the sheer grossness of it completely escaped him.  Therefore he had a mantle made from the king’s whiskers to wear around his broad shoulders that reached down to his heels.  Rhitta Gawr was at least twice as large as the largest man so the size of the garment and volume of whiskers he had collected was considerable.  

When the mantle was made he tried it on.  In his own mad mind he thought he looked very elegant and the height of fashion but realized there was something missing.  After considerable contemplation he decided he needed an exceptionally splendid beard to make a collar to finish off the entire magnificent piece.  There was only one royal beard that would be magnificent enough to do his mantle justice and that was on the chin of King Arthur, the greatest king of Britain.

He sent a messenger bearing a demand to King Arthur commanding him to shave off his beard without delay and give it to the messenger to bring back to him.  He promised out of respect to Arthur his royal whiskers would adorn the most prominent place on his wonderfully elegant new mantle which would be the height of fashion.  If he refused to comply he warned he would fight him in a duel to decide the matter.

Unsurprisingly, Arthur was not impressed by the command.  He was, however, angry with the mad foolishness of Nynio and Peibo and the defeat and humiliation all the other kings by Rhitta Gawr. Surprisingly, he did not seem the least perturbed at the giant’s taste in mantles but the forced shaving of the beards of all of the vanquished really annoyed him.  Furthermore, the very idea that he would willingly offer up his own royal whiskers to the arrogant giant really inflamed him. 

Angrily, he informed the messenger that but for the laws of his Court, which even he must obey; he would have slain him there and then for bringing such an offensive suggestion before him.  He told him to tell his master this was the most arrogant and insulting demand he had ever heard and for his impudence he would take his head, beard and all.  Wasting no time he mobilized his army and marched to Gwynedd in Wales to meet Rhitta Gawr in battle.

The two met face to face, beard to beard and the giant towered above glowering down. Arthur stood his ground and glared back fiercely.

“Give me your whiskers!” demanded Rhitta Gawr.

“Shan’t” replied Arthur angrily.

“Shall!” roared Rhitta Gawr.

“Shan’t! replied Arthur.

“T’is war!” they both cried together and immediately began fighting, trading blow for blow with great ferocity and strength. 

Although both received many wounds and were greatly bloodied they fought long and hard neither yielding to the other, each giving as they received.  At last Arthur was taken by a fury.  He drove forward catching the giant a mighty blow slicing through his helmet and splitting his forehead and quickly followed through with a strike to his heart.  Rhitta Gawr died and Arthur kept his royal whiskers. 

The giant was placed on top of the highest mountain of that region which was known as Eryi in those days.  Arthur ordered the soldiers of both armies to each place a stone over his body raising a cairn to cover him.  That place became known as Gwyddfa Rhitta or  Rhitta’s Barrow.  Today the Welsh call it “Yr Wyddfa” which means “tumulus” and the English call it “Snowdon”, meaning “snow hill,”  One consolation for Rhitta Gawr was that at least he did come to adorn a truly magnificent work of nature though judging by his taste in mantles it is doubtful he would have appreciated it.

To think that all this came about through the madness of two kings and the fact that the rulers of Britain had greater beards than their commonsense.  Looking around today it is worth noting that few of our rulers wear whiskers and perhaps that speaks for the greatness of their commonsense!

© 05/05/2021 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 5th, 2021 zteve t evans

The Giant and the Geoglyphs of the The Atacama Desert, Chile

Atacama Desert – Image by Julian Hacker from Pixabay

The Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert (Desierto de Atacama) of Chile, South America, located between the Andes Mountains and the coastal Cordillera de la Costa mountain range is the oldest desert on the planet. However, with an average temperature of 18 C or 63 F it is not the hottest desert in the world but being sandwiched between two mountain ranges creates special atmospheric and weather conditions making it the driest non-polar desert in the world.  The desert landscape is dry and arid with an otherworldly appearance and has been used for simulations of future expeditions to Mars.  The driest part of the desert receives less that a millimeter of rain annually on average though rainstorms do occur on rare occasions which bring rapid but fleeting growths of wildflowers.

Geoglyphic Art

Although the Atacama is a desolate, inhospitable place today there is much evidence of ancient human presence.   There are more that 5,000 prehistoric works of art known as geoglyths that have been situated on or created from the landscape.  A geoglyph is a work of art or construction that is formed on the ground in parts of the landscape.  They are usually 4 meters or more in length and constructed of durable materials found in the locality such as stone, rocks, gravel or earth.  They are considered a type of ancient land art and in some cases rock art and are usually highly visible from a distance.  In some cases such as some of the famous Nasca lines of Peru they appear to have been constructed to be viewed from above though it is not certain that was intended.  The Nazca lines were built between 200-800 BC and about 800 kilometers distant.   However, the Atacama glyphs are believed to have been built between 600 and 1500 AD and although not thought to be as old are more numerous and with varied styles covering a much larger region.

It is believed both sets of geoglyphs had multiple symbolic and ritual purposes and communicated certain information to people who understood their symbolism.   The Atacama geoglyphs are thought to have played an important role in the transportation system and networks that connected the great civilizations of South America in pre-Hispanic times.  They were believed to have been built and improved upon by more than one early South American culture including The Tiwanaku and Inca Empires as well as other groups.  The geoglyphs are formed in many different shapes including human, animal and geometric in about fifty varying types.  Some of these works were placed or created in isolated sites while others appear in panels of figures up to fifty in number.   They are located throughout the Atacama Desert in valleys, or on pampas or hillsides and always close to pre-Hispanic paths or tracks which were the routes of the llama caravans through the arid and desolate landscape connecting the ancient people of the region.

Types and Forms of Geoglyphs

Image by SznegraCC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There were three methods that have been identified that were used to create the geoglyphs.  One method was to scrape away the top layer of the landscape such as soil or sand revealing a contrasting color below.   Another way was to use rocks and stone and other materials to form shapes on the landscape.   They also used a combination of these two methods and sometimes paint to create other geoglyphs.

Geoglyphs in geometric shapes are the most numerous. There are many different types of these including rectangles, circles, concentric circles, arrows, crossed parallel lines, rhomboids and other shapes.  There are also zoomorphic figures especially llamas and alpacas, but also animals such as fox and monkeys, birds such as eagles, flamingos, and seagulls and fishes such as dolphins or sharks.   There are also depictions of amphibians such as lizards, snake and toads which were believed to represent ancient divinities associated with water.  One of the most often repeated depictions are of caravans of llamas with 3 or more ranks of up to 80 animals in lines.   Humans are also depicted engaged in activities such as fishing, hunting, religious ceremonies and sex.

Ancient Signposts

Luis Briones in his paper, “The geoglyphs of the north Chilean desert: an archaeological and artistic perspective”, published in the March 2006 issue of the journal Antiquity discussed the geoglyphs and came up with some interesting ideas. The real function and purpose of the geoglyphs may never be known but Briones believes they may have served several functions.   Their location along the trade routes through the Atacama seems to have been deliberate.  It may be they acted as signposts providing the travelers, who would know their meaning, with certain types of invaluable and useful information.

They may have served as pointers or landmarks perhaps indicating where water or fodder for animals may be found, or warning of difficulties in the landscape and indicating safe paths.   It may be that they are part of an early religion or cult which may have combined commercial traveling with religion.  Following such a path may have been a rite or ritual or perhaps an initiation or pilgrimage.   If they did contain information they may have been an early form of writing.  However, to read their meaning you would have to know what the shapes and the way they were set meant along with how punctuation and syntax was used.  Unfortunately, that knowledge is now lost, if it ever existed and we can only guess.

The trade routes would have been an important part of the economy for any civilization or culture.   The moving or essential items such as corn, potatoes, fish and other food as well as commodities such as turquoise, copper and cotton to distant markets helps bind civilizations and empires together.   Moreover, they transported news and perhaps orders or commands from the government centers.

The Atacama Giant

One of the most spectacular of these geoglyphs is known as the Atacama Giant, a large anthropomorphic figure set on the side of the hill of Cerro Unitas.  It is the largest known prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world being 390 ft (119 m) long and believed to depict a deity of a local population from 1000 – 1400 AD.   It was believed to be an early astronomical calendar that told those who knew how to read it important dates such as crop cycles and seasons in relation to how certain parts of it aligned with the moon.   Anything that might help predict rain or weather would be very useful in the dry, barren regions of the Atacama Desert.  

Hill figures are often thought to have been intended to view from some distance, suggesting the giant may have been strategically placed.  The giant has a stylized unnatural appearance made up of squares, rectangles and parallel lines at varying angles to create a geometric representation of a massive anthropomorphic figure.    It appears to be either wearing a headdress such as one made of feathers or had rays emanating with from its head or from behind it.    How the moon or other astronomical objects related to these lines was believe to give the season and times of the year. 

The Giant and the other geoglyphs provide evidence of the activities of humans in these inhospitable regions. There are many similar examples of such landscape art found all around the world including the Nasca lines, and the White Horse of Uffington and other English hill figures, the Blythe Intaglios of California USA and the Steppe Geoglyphs of Kazakhstan are but a few examples.

© 23/04/2021 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 4th, 2021 zteve t evans

Hertfordshire Folklore: Jack O’ Legs

Jack1956, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jack O’ Legs

In the folklore of Hertfordshire, England, Jack O’ Legs was a giant and legendary outlaw who helped the poor people of his locality.  He was a good archer and used a huge bow to match his size. He was said to live in a cave in the Weston Hills or Weston Wood near the village of Weston which is about four miles from Stevenage and two and a half miles from Baldock.  The site of Jack’s cave is a field called “The Cave” and the adjacent field is called “Weston Wood.”   (1)

Jack Strikes

Although the area has been continuously settled by humans through the Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age times to the modern town of Baldock was established by the Knights Templars sometime in or after 1140 (2). According to tradition after a poor harvest had caused the bakers of Baldock to increase the price of flour and consequently bread beyond the price of the poor. Jack, feeling sorry for the poor people of Weston, decided to act.  On the Great North Road near Gravelly there is a steep incline known as “Jack’s Hill.” which is where he would ambush the bakers and steal their flour to distribute it to the poor people of Weston.

The Bakers Strike Back

The bakers in revenge managed to arrest Jack and he was put on trial under the practice of infangthief (3).  This was originally an Anglo-Saxon practice that allowed a lord of the manor to put to death a thief caught on his land.   He was found guilty, blinded and told he would face the gallows and given a final wish.  Jack was said to have asked to be allowed to shoot a final arrow and the spot that it landed was where he wanted to be buried.  This was allowed and his bow and an arrow was given to him and he was orientated as to his directions.  He shot the arrow which flew three miles to land in the churchyard of the Holy Trinity Church in Weston.  After his execution that is where he was said to have been buried.   According to legend his grave lies between two stones in the churchyard about fourteen feet apart allegedly marking where his head and feet lay and giving  an idea of how tall he was said to be.   

Oral Tradition

Whatever we know about Jack and it is not really very much has been passed on orally from generation to generation since early medieval times.   In 1521 John Skelton wrote a poem called “Speak Parrot” criticizing Cardinal Wolsey which contained a line ‘The gibbett of Baldock was made for Jack Leg’.  From this  it is believed the legend must be known at  that time as he appeared to expect his audience to understand the line.  

 Certain parts of the story may be true such as there being a shortage of flour and its increase in price.  This would possibly have led to difficulty in being able to buy it for poor people causing resentment.  It may  even have made someone angry or desperate enough to do something about it.  Step forward Jack, but while it is possible it cannot be proved. It may be that the legend is a folk memory of an exceptionally tall robber who once existed and was generous with his ill gotten gains to the people of Weston and the  locality who would  probably have been thankful for his largess. The story of him being buried where his arrow landed may have been added later as an embellishment and he may have been buried in Weston churchyard because he was born in its parish.  It may be that each generation added a little to the story taking  it to its present stage.  

Nevertheless, it is a good story and gives the area a popular and colorful folk hero and center of interest as his depiction in the above mural in the Grange Junior School in Letchworth, Hertfordshire shows.   

        © 03/12/2020 zteve t evans                   

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans December 3rd, 2020

Giant Tales: The Making of the Wrekin

The Wrekin, Shropshire – Public Domain

The Wrekin 

In Shropshire, England, is a large hill called the Wrekin. It is about 407 metres (1,335 feet) high situated about five miles west of Telford. It is an impressive landmark visible from miles around, including  Cleeve Hill, Gloucestershire, Staffordshire and the Black Country and even Beetham Tower, Manchester, and Winter Hill, Lancashire.  Probably because of its prominence a number of myths, legends and folklore traditions are associated with it.  Here we look at two different folktales that tell how it was by giants and there are several versions some may differ in detail.  The first concerns a Welsh giant who sought revenge against the people of the town of Shrewsbury.  The second tells how the hill and nearby River Severn were created by two exiled giants working to build themselves a new home.  

 Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr 

Long ago in the land of Wales there lived a giant by the name of Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr.  For many years he had demanded tribute from the town of Shrewsbury which was paid in the form of young maidens which he ate.  On one occasion one of the maidens managed to escape and return home to Shrewsbury and told the people of the fate of the maidens they sent the giant.  The people were outraged and refused to send anymore.

In revenge the giant decided he would drown them all by blocking the flow of the River Severn which ran through the town.  To achieve this he took his giant spade and pushed it into the ground collecting a great wad of earth which he intended to drop into the river to block its flow and flood Shrewsbury.  

It so happened that he was not the brightest of giants and did not have a  clear idea of the location of the river and town.   Nevertheless, he set off carrying his spade holding the wad of earth intending to carry out his plan.  He seemed to have lost his way and somehow missed Shrewsbury.  Eventually he grew very tired and as he approached the town of Wellington he met a cobbler returning to his home after visiting Shrewsbury market for trade.  The cobbler was carrying a large sack of assorted footwear that people had commissioned him to repair.  The giant asked the cobbler the way to Shrewsbury revealing his plan to block the river with the earth on his spade and drown the town and its people.   The cobbler was aghast at the idea but feared upsetting the giant so he quickly came up with a clever ruse telling him, 

“Well, actually Shrewsbury is miles and miles away as is the River Severn.  See this sack, it is full of shoes that I have worn out walking from Shrewsbury to this very spot and it has taken days and days to get here.”

The giant looked at the sack and saw how full it was and he was greatly  dismayed at the thought of walking such a great distance.  Feeling tired and disillusioned he dumped the great spadeful of earth on the ground there and then and in later years it became known as the Wrekin.  Scraping the mud off his boots with his spade he created a smaller heap of earth which became known as Ercall Hill and wearily made his way home.   What became of him after that this tale does not tell.

The Quarreling Giants

The second myth of origin tells how the Wrekin was formed by two giants who had been exiled from their own land and needed somewhere to live.  They decided to build a huge hill big enough for them both to live in.  To begin with they worked hard and quickly created a huge mound of earth.  They dug out a long and winding ditch which filled with water and became the River Severn.  The earth from the ditch they piled up high to create a huge mound which became known as the Wrekin.

However, the giants began to quarrel with one another possibly over the use of their only spade. One picked it up and struck the other who fought back with his bare hands.  As they were fighting a raven flew by and taking the side of the unarmed giant attacked the one who wielded the spade pecking at his eyes. This caused the armed giant’s eyes to water.  A tear fell into a small cleft in the rock which became known as the Raven’s Bowl, or the Cuckoo’s Cup.   It is said to hold water even in the hottest weather.

With the help of the raven the unarmed giant won the fight and imprisoned the other in a nearby hill he built for the purpose which is called Ercall Hill today.  The prisoner is said to be still there today and can be heard at times groaning in the night.

Folklore and Tradition

Another tradition tells how the victor hurled a blow spade at his enemy, missing him but hitting a rock making a narrow split which became known as the Needle’s Eye.  All true Salopians – that is someone born in Shropshire – are said to have climbed through the needle.  Girls who do this are advised to never look back because they will never marry if they do.

© 21/10/2020 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 21st, 2020 zteve t evans 

Welsh Folklore: The Owl of Cwm Cowlyd

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday on 28th November, 2019, as The Owl of Cwm Cowlyd and Oldest Animals in the World, by zteve t evans

The Owl of Cwm Cowlyd

In Welsh legend and myth the Owl of Cwm Cowlyd lived in the woods that once surrounded Llyn Cowlyd. Today the woods are gone but the legends live on in two tales that feature a search for the oldest and wisest animals in the world. In the first the owl is said to be among the oldest animals in the world, whereas in the second the owl is attributed as being the oldest.

Culhwch and Olwen

The first is ‘Culhwch and Olwen’, an action packed hero tale from the Red Book of Hergest, written just after 1382. It was also contained in fragments in the White Book of Rhydderch, written about 1320. Both books were sources for the Mabinogion, a compilation of early Welsh oral stories by Lady Charlotte Guest from which the first of these tales draws.

Culhwch was the son of King Cilydd and his wife, Goleuddydd, who died soon after giving birth to him. Cilydd remarried, but Culhwch became estranged from his step-mother after she tried to persuade him to marry her daughter from another marriage. Culhwch refused and she took offence, casting a spell on him so that the only woman he could marry was Olwen, the beautiful daughter of the dangerous giant, Ysbaddaden Bencawr, in the belief that it would be impossible.

Despite never having met or even seen Olwen, Culhwch became obsessed and besotted by her. His father told him he would never be able to find her alone and must seek out the assistance of his cousin, King Arthur. Culhwch visited Arthur and was given a band of heroic companions to aid him in his quest. They eventually found Ysbaddaden and Olwen but the giant insisted that to marry his daughter, Culhwch must perform a series of tasks he believed to be impossible.

One of the tasks required him to find Mabon, who was the son of Modron, whose whereabouts was unknown, but was essential to the overall success of the quest. To succeed he had to kill the legendary wild boar, the Twrch Trwyth. The only dog who could track the Twrch Trwyth is the hunting dog named Drudwyn, and the only man who could handle Drudwyn was Mabon. The problem was that Mabon was being held captive in some secret place.

The Oldest Animals in the World

In the hope that one of the oldest and wisest animals in the world might know where he  was, advice was sought from the Blackbird of Cilgwri, who led hem to the Stag of Redynfre, who led them to the Owl of Cwm Cowlyd. The owl told them …

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Brazilian Folktales: Domingo’s Cat

 

Magical Animal Helpers and Tricksters

Humans have always had a long and beneficial association with animals and animal helpers appear in many fairy tales from around the world.  Sometimes they are tricksters as in this story and sometimes they are teachers or guides that take the hero through difficult situations and very often they are magical.  Presented below is a retelling of a Brazilian fairy tale from Tales of Giants from Brazil, by Elsie Spicer Eells, illustrated by Helen M. Barton, called Domingo’s Cat and has much in common with Charles Perrault’s “The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots, from the 17th century.”

The Story of Domingo’s Cat

The story begins with a man named Domingo who fell upon hard times and had to sell everything he owned just to buy enough food to keep from starving.   After all his possessions had finally been sold he had nothing left in the world except his cat which he loved dearly.  He vowed that come what may he would never sell his cat and that he would rather starve before he let any harm come to it. As it sat upon his lap he told it,  “Have no fear my only friend, I will never let you go or let harm come to you, I will die of starvation first.”

The cat rubbed its head against him and replied, “My good master Domingo, while you have me I will never let you starve.  I am going to go out into the wide world and find both our fortunes. You must put your trust in me.”

Treasure for the King

With that Domingo’s cat jumped down from his master’s lap and ran off into the jungle.  Presently, he stopped and began digging a hole in the ground with his fore paws. He dug furiously throwing up the earth all around and mixed in with the earth were many silver pieces. He gathered some of these up and took them home and gave them to Domingo to buy food.  Then he went back to the jungle collecting the remaining silver pieces and took them to the king.

The next day the cat went out into the jungle and began digging more holes  and this time mixed in with the dirt were pieces of gold. He gathered these up and took them to the king who again was very pleaded with it.   The following day the cat went out into the jungle and again began digging a hole but this time the earth was mixed with many shiny diamonds which he took along to the king.  Again, the king was surprised and very happy with the cat and asked him where he was getting all these riches from.

“It is not me, it is Domingo my master,”  replied the cat.

The Wedding

The king was very impressed and thought that Domingo must be very rich.  Indeed, he thought he must probably be richest man in all his kingdom and therefore just the man to marry his beautiful daughter whom he had been looking for a suitable husband for. Therefore, he suggested to the cat that his master may like to marry her. The cat took the news back to Domingo who agreed he would like to marry the king’s daughter but pointed out that he did not have any clothes anywhere near fine enough to wear to a wedding let alone as the bridegroom to the king’s daughter.

“Don’t worry about that or anything else,”  the cat told him, ” I will take care of everything and make all the necessary arrangements.  Just leave it all to me.” 

The Wedding Suit

The cat ran back to the king and said,  “Your Majesty, I have bad news.  A terrible fire broke out in the tailor’s shop where my master, Domingo was having his wedding suit made and the tailor and his assistants were all burnt to death.  Now everything in the shop is nothing but ashes including Domingo’s wedding suit. I wonder if perhaps you could find him something suitable for such a grand wedding from your own wardrobe.”

The king readily agreed and himself chose the finest clothes and sent them with a servant to Domingo.   After Domingo had put the clothes on he looked very smart and perfectly dressed for such an important wedding but he realized there was a problem.

“I look very fine but I have no splendid palace to take my wife home to after we are married,”  he told his cat.

“Leave it to me,” said his cat, “I will see to it at once.”   and ran off into the jungle until he came to a huge and magnificent castle where a great giant lived.  He banged on the door until the giant came and answered it and then said, “Great giant, will you lend your castle to my master Domingo, please, just for a while?”

The giant snorted and shouted angrily “What me lend my castle to that pauper Domingo? Certainly not!  Go away!”

“I will not go away and I will have your castle,” said the cat and in the blinking of an eye changed the giant into a mouse and pounced upon it and ate it.

The Giant’s Castle

The giant’s  castle was indeed very wonderful and had a beautiful and stately palace. There were rooms marvelously decorated with wonderful words of art and adorned with gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and much, much more.  Outside the palace, inside the castle walls, was a beautiful garden filled with wonderful flowers and singing birds and it was indeed a most fitting place for Domingo to bring his new bride home to.

After the wedding a stately carriage took Domingo and his wife to the caste and when they arrived they saw his cat sitting in the window watching for them, but that was the last they ever saw of him because he disappeared into the jungle to look for another kind, penniless master to make rich.  Maybe one day he may find you and then – well, who knows?

© 22/8/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 22nd, 2018 zteve t evans

The Murderous Plot of Albina and her Sisters and the Origin of Albion

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Jerusalem The Emanation of The Giant Albion – The William Blake Archive [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (cropped and digitally altered)
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com February 22, 2018 as British Legends: The Origin of Albion and the Bloodlust of Albina and her Sisters written by zteve t evans

Of the Great Giants

According to British medieval legend and myth, the island now known as Britain was once named Albion after an exiled queen named Albina.   She was the eldest of a family of sisters who had been exiled from their homeland in Greece, though some versions of the story say Syria.   How this came to be is an outlandish and in many ways disturbing story, found in the 14th century poem, Des Grantz Geanz (“Of the Great Giants”) which was popular in its time and probably best read as an allegorical work.  British traditions of the Middle Ages were heavily influenced by the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth in his book Historia regum Britanniae  (The History of the Kings of Britain) written about 1136 that tells that when Brutus of Troy arrived on the island that that been revealed to him in the Prophecy of Diana, he found it was just as she had described, being a green and fertile land populated by only a few giants.  Brutus and his Trojans fought the giants until at last the biggest and strongest of them was  the only one left alive. His name was Gogmagog and Brutus had deliberately saved him to fight his own champion Corineus who thrilled at such challenge.

Geoffrey of Monmouth never said where the giants had come from or why the island was called Albion.  This perplexed medieval scholars and a story evolved that attempted to explain this discrepancy. According to medieval tradition, before the fight began Brutus was said to have asked Gogmagog who he was and of the origin of his people.  Gogmagog was said to have given the Trojan a fantastic tale revealing the origin of the giants and how the island had been named, “Albion”.  Presented next is a retelling of the story Gogmagog allegedly told Brutus and has been sourced from several medieval and Anglo-Norman accounts and more recent works.

Albina and her Sisters

According to Gogmagog the story of the origin of the giants of Albion began 3,970 years after the world began.  In a country now called Greece there ruled a very powerful king.  This king was very noble and very righteous and the head of a strict patriarchal state and society.  His queen was a very beautiful woman and they had a very happy marriage and were blessed with thirty beautiful daughters who were said to be very tall in some accounts.  The giant confessed he did not know all their names but knew the eldest, tallest and most influential of these was named Albina.

He told Brutus, that in accordance with the custom of the time and of their society the king decided that their daughters had come of sufficient age to marry. He then decided without consulting his daughters which daughter would marry which of the many kings, princes and rulers that would be a good political match for his realm.  All thirty of the daughters were then married to their allotted husbands with much ceremony and fanfare.

However, his daughters were said to be very proud and strong-willed women who wanted their own well-being and desires met. They were fiercely independent and hated the idea of being married to men who were not of their own choosing and did not love. To them it was an indignity and an insult to have to be subjugated in any way to any man regardless of how rich and powerful he was or whatever benefits it might bring for their father’s kingdom.

A Murderous Plot

They vowed they would be no man’s possession and instead would be the rulers of all men regardless of their status.  To further these vows they plotted together in secret and hatched a most extreme plan.

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A Tale of Three Rivers: The Ystwyth, the Severn and the Wye

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Richard Webb [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many legends and myths that explain how different British rivers originated. Many of these have been influenced by pagan beliefs and the worship of water goddesses, spirits or nymphs and have distinct Celtic connections.   This work looks at a legend that tells how the three British rivers known today as the Ystwyth, Severn and Wye  had their beginnings on the flanks of Mount Plynlimon in the Cambrian Mountains of Mid Wales.   It gives an explanation of how they formed and found their way to the sea to become part of the great rain cycle that brings growth and nourishment to the land and its inhabitants. The work presented here draws from more than one source and owes much to Pollyanna Jones and Bill Gwilliam.

The Sleeping Giant

The story begins on Plynlimon which is a massif that is the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains and the highest point in Mid Wales.  Underneath the massif there was said to be a sleeping giant.  This giant had three daughters who were Niskai in Celtic mythology, sometimes known as water goddesses or nymphs.  There names were Ystwyth, Hafren and Gwy.

Although the giant slept he watched over his daughters in his slumber seeing them grow safely from the rain and the mountain mist that settled upon the mountain sides.  He watched the raindrops form puddles which formed pools which joined together to form little rivulets that trickled gently down the mountain.   In his dreams, he looked upon them and saw the energy that was brimming up inside of them ready to overflow and gush forth and he knew their time had come.

The Giant Awakes

Waking from his slumber he called them to him and told them,  “The time has come when you should fulfill your destiny and join with the sea.” And then he asked, “How will you fulfill your destiny?”

Being water nymphs they greatly desired to visit the ocean and to explore the great and mysterious region of the Celtic Sea and the wonders that lay beyond. It is very often the case with sisters that each will have different personalities and strong characteristics and express their individuality in different ways.  The choice each sister would make for themselves would be an expression of their unique personalities and individuality.

Ystwyth’s Choice

 

Ystwyth, was the smallest and was always in a hurry and made decisions and accomplished tasks in great haste.   As might be expected she quickly made up her mind that she would join the sea by the quickest and shortest route.  Stepping forward  she told her father, “I long to see the sea, to smell the salt air and see the sun rise and set over its wide waters.   I would go west by the shortest and the quickest route I can find to the sea to fulfill my destiny.”

“Then goodbye and go and fulfill your destiny and know that we shall meet again!”  her father said, kissing and her embracing her.   Saying her goodbyes to her sisters she skipped and danced down the mountainside, drawing strength and speed from the small brooks and streams from her father’s side and flowed westerly, sparkling and shimmering through the land of Wales reaching the sea much faster than her two sisters ever would.  The people who lived in the lands she flowed through called her the River Ystwyth and she arrived at the sea fulfilling her destiny at a place now called Aberystwyth that was named after her.

Hafren’s Choice

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River Severn in Shrewsbury – By The original uploader was Chrisbayley at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Then Hafren stepped forward.  She said she was in no great hurry and wanted to take a good look at the countryside and to see the cities of humans and flow through their kingdoms.  She told her father, “I would choose to roam over the land taking the long way to the sea.  Then I could meet other waters of the land and learn the wisdom of the earth.   I would wander through the great cities, the beautiful towns and the villages of the fair people and learn what I could of their ways before I rendezvous with my sisters in the sea.  I have no need for haste and wish to learn and take my time. On my way, I will water and nourish the meadows of those fair folk but woe betide them should they abuse my good nature.  This is how I want to fulfill my destiny.”

Then her father kissed and embraced her and said, “Then go now and fulfill your destiny and know that we shall meet again!”

Saying goodbye to her remaining sister,  she did exactly as she said she would.  She took her time and wandered through the landscape visiting some of the wonderful cities, towns, and villages along the way before she eventually joined with the Celtic Sea.  Her flow became known as the River Severn that glides serenely through the land to join the sea in the Bristol Channel.  True to her word those who abused her by setting their buildings and homes too close to her banks, or by invading her water pastures caused her to rise up and inundate them but she fulfills her destiny as she should.

Gwy’s Choice

river_wye_in_a_passing_shower_-_geograph-org-uk_-_1451606

Jonathan Billinger [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The giant turned to his last daughter, Gwy as she watched her two sisters go their separate ways saying, “And now it’s your turn.  What direction do you choose for yourself?”

Gwy was not in such a hurry as Ystwyth and unlike Hafren who yearned for knowledge she was more inclined towards beauty.  She decided she would like to visit some of the beautiful countryside before she joined with the sea.  She stepped forward and kissed her father saying, “Ystywyth is in a hurry to join the sea.  Hafren seeks knowledge and experience. Beauty and harmony with nature are what I seek.  I will seek a way to the sea through the valleys and forests and all creatures shall find in my flow a place of peace and fulfillment and a sanctuary where their needs shall be met.  I will bring happiness and tranquility where ever I go.”

Her father smiled kissed and embraced his daughter and said, “Goodbye.  Go and fulfill your destiny and know that we shall meet again!”

So Gwy flowed down the mountain and happily wandered through the valleys and the forests visiting the prettiest of the countryside before she eventually joined with the sea.  Gwy would become known by the people who lived along her flow as the River Wye and join up with her sister Hafren at a place now known as the Severn Estuary.  No doubt as the two sisters continued their journey through the Bristol Channel they found much to talk about together and to tell their hasty sister Ystwyth when they finally all met up again in the Celtic Sea.

The Giant Sleeps

The giant, although he knew he would miss his daughters, was happy because he knew they were fulfilling their destiny in the great scheme of things.  He had watched for time untold as they had been born from the Welsh mists and rain that often covered the mountainsides forming droplets on plants and rocks which collected together to form puddles. These would eventual gather moss and became pools ready to overflow into brooks and streams that would join together to flow over the land to the sea.

He was not sad because he knew that in the great cycle his daughters would return and visit him riding in the clouds that formed high above the ocean.  They would then be blown across the sea to the land to fall as rain on the mountainside.  They would stay for a time before once again making their way to the sea.  And so the great cycle would continue bringing nourishment and life to the land and all living things that dwell upon it.  Feeling satisfied that all was as it should be the giant went to sleep.

© 14/02/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 14th, 2018 zteve t evans

Greenlandic Folktales: Little Kâgssagssuk

The Father of Eskimology

Knud Rasmussen (1879-1921) was a polar explorer and anthropologist who was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage by dog sled. He was born in lulissat, formerly Jakobshavn in Greenland.  His mother, Lovise was of Inuit-Danish descent and his father was a Danish missionary and vicar named Christian Rasmussen.  He was brought up in Greenland and spent his early years living among the Kalllitt, a group of the Greenlandic Inuit people learning the Kalaallisut language they spoke and learning how to live, hunt and use the dog sleds used to traverse the harsh Arctic terrain. He said,

“My playmates were native Greenlanders; from the earliest boyhood I played and worked with the hunters, so even the hardships of the most strenuous sledge-trips became pleasant routine for me.” (1)

He was called the “Father of Eskimology,” and collected data for the Fifth Thule Expedition, (1921–1924) which sought to investigate the origin of the Eskimo people and published in a ten volume work “The Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-1924,” containing ethnological, archaeological and biological data he had collected.  He also published accounts of his expeditions and exploits and a book of folk stories, “Eskimo Folk-Tales.” The story that follows is a rewrite from this book and was called, “Kâgssagssuk, The Homeless Boy Who Became A Strongman”.   Really, it is a story that could be found throughout the history of human society in any human culture  around the world and is still very relevant today.

Kâgssagssuk, The Homeless Boy Who Became A Strongman

They say there was once a day when the men and women had gone to a spiritual meeting held by a wizard and had left the children in one  house to keep them safe.  The children played lots of noisy games together and as might be expected made a great deal of noise. Outside, a homeless orphan boy called Kâgssagssuk walked by.  Hearing the noise the children were making he shouted out, “You are making so much noise the evil Fire Spirit will come for you!”

The children made fun of him and would not believe him and carried on with their noisy game.  They  were having such great fun and grew louder and louder and just as Kâgssagssuk had warned the an evil Fire Spirit appeared.  Kâgssagssuk ran into the house crying, “Quick, quick, lift me up, I need my gloves that are drying up there!”   So the children lifted him up to the great drying frame under the roof.  Then the evil spirit ran into the house with a live ribbon seal in his hand that had long sharp claws attached to it that he used as a whip .  Each time he whirled his whip he caught one of the children and dragged them towards him and as they drew near him they were frizzled up in his flames.  He did this until all the children were frizzled up and then he turned to leave.  As he was about to go he reached up and touched a skin that was hanging from the drying frame and then left the house.

When he sure it was gone Little Kâgssagssuk climbed down from the drying frame and ran to the wizard’s house where the spiritual meeting with the adults was taking place. Kâgssagssuk told them what had happened but they would not believe him and accused him of killing the children.  Kâgssagssuk said,

“It was not me it was the noise they were making that roused the Great Fire. If you don’t believe me you make a noise like the children made and see what happens!”   

The adults began cooking a big vat of blubber which they had positioned over the door of the building  on the outside.   As the blubber heated up all the oil came out and began boiling and bubbling creating a great noise,   Sure enough, this roused the the evil Fire Spirit who appeared outside.  The adults had ordered little Kâgssagssuk to stay out of the house so he hid himself in the outside shed.

Once again the evil Fire Spirit came wielding a living ribbon seal as a whip.  The adults heard it coming and quickly tipped the vat of boiling blubber over  the whip as it came through the door.  This caused the Fire Spirit to crackle and spark and with the whip extinguished and destroyed it went away.

Although little Kâgssagssuk had been proved right and had told the truth, from that time onwards the people were cruel to him.  Being an orphan little Kâgssagssuk had lived at the house of one of the great men of his community named Umerdlugtoq.  Now he was restricted from entering his house and  Kâgssagssuk was now only allowed enough time indoors to dry his boots.  When the time was up Umerdlugtoq would grab Kâgssagssuk by the nose and lifting him off the floor throw him through the door.

The only family little Kâgssagssuk had was two grandmothers and neither were very nice to him.  One would beat him if he tried to shelter in her passage  and although the other, who was the mother of his mother, was kinder and would dry his clothes for him she would do nothing else.

Sometimes the people would only give him the tough hide of a walrus to eat.This was out of malice because they knew how tough it was and how hard it was to eat and digest.  To help him chew the hide Kâgssagssuk kept a small sharp stone in his pocket which he placed between his teeth  to bite down on.  Sometimes he would be so hungry he would eat what the dog’s had left and refused.  He would sleep with the dogs and would climb on the roof of a building to feel the warm air rise through the smoke hole.  Whenever  Umerdlugtoq caught him he would grab him by the nose and pull him off the roof.  Things went on like this for a long time for little Kâgssagssukv all through the dark days of winter.  As spring began to show and the days grew longer and lighter little Kâgssagssuk  took to roaming out of the settlement into the countryside.

One day while he wandered in the country he came across a huge man who he realized was a giant.  The giant was cutting up his catch and Kâgssagssuk was feeling very hungry and cried out, “Hey, giant, let me have some meat please!”    

Although he shouted at the top of his voice the giant could not hear him. Kâgssagssuk kept shouting and eventually the giant heard his voice and not knowing who was talking but thinking it was one of the dead, dropped some meat, saying, “ There now, bring me good luck!” as he deliberatley dropped a small slice of meat on the ground as he said it.

Now, although little Kâgssagssuk was still young he had some helping spirits who looked after him and they turned the small slice of meat into a big slice.  Little Kâgssagssuk ate as much as he could and when he was full he was pleased to see there was still a lot left.  In fact there was so much that he struggled to drag it to a hiding place he had found to store it in so that he could eat it later.  Nevertheless, after a struggle he managed it and went back to the settlement.

Then few days later little Kâgssagssuk said to the mother of his mother, who was his kindest grandmother, “I have been given some meat and now I find I keep thinking about it and I am now going out to check it.”  With that he went to the place he had hidden it, but when he got there it had gone.   He was bitterly disappointed and began to cry.   While he was stood crying the giant came up and said, “Why is it you are weeping?”

Little Kâgssagssuk replied, “I am upset because a few days ago I hid some meat here and now it has gone.”

“I see,” said the giant, “but I found that meet and thought it had belonged to someone else so I took it.”  and because the giant had taken to little Kâgssagssuk and felt pity for him he said, “Come and play with me!”  This seemed good to little Kâgssagssuk and he went off with the giant.  As they went they came across a small boulder and the giant said, “ Let us push this boulder.” So they pushed the boulder until it twirled round and then little Kâgssagssuk tried to push it on his own but he just fell backwards.

Once more, once more!” cried the giant and, “Quick, now, once more!” and in this way the giant took little Kâgssagssuk from boulder to boulder each one bigger than the last. Llittle Kâgssagssuk found that eventually he stopped falling backwards and could push them so hard even the biggest  twirled in the air.

“Good!”said the giant, “Now you are as strong as me and are indeed, a very strong man.  Because it was all my fault you lost your meat I will now make three bears walk into your settlement”

Little Kâgssagssuk went back to his village and went to warm himself by a smoke hole on one of the roofs.  Umerdlugtoq saw him and grasped him by the nose and pulled him from the roof and threw him to the ground.  So little Kâgssagssuk went to lay with the dogs to keep warm, but the mother of his father took a stick to him and beat him and the dogs

That night when all the villagers had fallen asleep Kâgssagssuk went out to the kayaks which were all frozen fast in the water and lifted one free, breaking the ice.  Then Kâgssagssuk went and climbed upon the roof of a home to get the warm from its smoke hole and there he spent the night.

In the morning when the men went down to make their kayaks out fishing they were greatly surprised to find one had been hauled out of the ice in the night and they all gathered round to discuss this remarkable feat.  “Who is the strongman who pulled the kayak from the ice? asked one.”

“Indeed there must be a strongman among us,” said another.

“No one is that strong,” said yet another.

“Ha! Here is the mighty man!” said Umerdlugtoq mockingly pointing to Kâgssagssuk who had wandered down to the edge of the group.

Later on that day the people of the village began to call out excitedly that three bears – a mother and two cubs –  were approaching the village just as the giant had sad they would.  At this time Kâgssagssuk was drying his boots by a fire of his mother’s mother and mindful of what the giant had told him borrowed her boots and ran outside and across the snow covered ground to find the bears.  The snow had been packed hard where everyone had walked upon it and usually little Kâgssagssuk would leave no footprints when he walked upon it being small and light.  Now as he ran over the hard packed snow he left deep footprints such as would be made in newly fallen snow.   He soon found the bears and the villagers watched in surprise as he approached them.  “Hey, what has come over Kâgssagssuk, he is running towards the bears!”  cried one. “What has gotten into him? shouted another.

Umerdlugtoq was astounded to see him running to confront the bears and looked on in astonishment as Kâgssagssuk grabbed the mother bear in his bare hands and wrung her neck and threw her to the ground dead.  He then grabbed the two cubs, one in each hand and battered their heads together killing them instantly.   Then he threw the great mother bear over his shoulders and grasping a cub in each hand he casually walked back to the village to the mother of his mother’s house.   There he skinned the bears and cut them up and placed their flesh into a large pot ready to cook them for her and built a big fireplace to cook the meat on.

Umerdlugtoq had been shocked when he saw little Kâgssagssuk kill the bears and made haste to get away from him taking his wives with him.  His father’s mother who would beat him came by to threaten him and he threw her on the fire and she burned up leaving only her stomach.  His mother’s mother saw this and tried to run away but he held her and said to her, “You have nothing to fear, for you were kind to me and would always let me dry my boots and now I shall be kind to you!”

After the bear meat was cooked and he had eaten a meal of it he went looking for Umerdlugtoq who had climbed a high hill and pitched a tent by the side of a precipice and there he stayed with his wives.   Kâgssagssuk reached into the tent and grabbing Umerdlugtoq by the nose pulled him out.   He held him at arm’s length off the ground and shook him until his nostrils burst and Umerdlugtoq feared he would be killed.

Kâgssagssuk shook him again and said,  “Fear not, you did not kill me so I will not kill you!” and threw him on the ground.  Then went into the tent and shouted, “Hey I am in here with your wives.  Come and take a gòod look!”   Umerdlugtoq had often threatened and beaten little Kâgssagssuk if he had so much as glanced at one of his wives and now little Kâgssagssuk was taking his revenge.  When he was satisfied he had punished Umerdlugtoq enough he went back to the village to seek out others who had made his life a misery.  When he had taken vengeance on these he left the village and traveled south and lived with the southern people.

There are those who say that he would go out hunting with other men but because he had grown so strong he began to enjoy filling them with fear.  They say he turned bad and began catching children and squeezing them to death.  The men in the village harpooned him one day while he was out in his kayak to  put an end to his bullying and that was the end of the story of how Kâgssagssuk, the homeless boy who became a strongman.   Sadly, it was not the end of the story.

The Story Continues

Little Kâgssagssuk was a boy in this story but could easily have been a girl.  Such children, perhaps orphaned, abandoned or lost, still exist today in many places around the world living alone and on the fringes of society, or invisible to it.  Abuse and neglect breed abuse and neglect and shamefully the story continues.

© 18/10/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 18th, 2017 zteve t evans

Cormoran, the Giant of St Michael’s Mount

St. Michael’s Mount is a tidal island that lies just in Mount’s Bay, off the coast of Cornwall and  a short distance from the town of Marazion.  At high tide it becomes an island and when the tide goes out it can be reached from Marazion by a short stroll across a stone causeway.   Looking very much like the scene from a fairy tale the mount rises up out of Mount’s Bay and is crowned with a castle.  Below the castle lies a cluster of houses and a small harbour where the causeway runs from Marazion connecting it to the Cornish mainland.

 
Many centuries ago Mount’s Bay was above water and  once home to a forest that.  It is not known exactly what happened but the forest is now under the sea. Whether the land sank or the sea rose is not known, but this land is said to have been drowned by the sea in an event that was possibly similar to a tsunami. The petrified remains of the trees  can sometimes still be seen after storms.

Cormoran the giant

Many years before the flood the forest was said to be the home of birds, animals and probably humans.  But there was also giants and the biggest of all was Cormoran and there are many tales concerning him and many versions of the same tale but in Cornish folklore it is Cormoran, with the help of his wife who built the Mount with the name “St Michael’s” added later from a different legend.

 
In the middle of the forest was one huge white rock and one day while roaming the forest Cormoran came across it and taking a liking to the place decided to built a high hill of white rocks and to make it his home.  His idea was to look out from the heights of the hill over the countryside keeping an eye on what was going on all around.

Building the Mount

It was a mammoth task he had set himself but he knew just what he wanted and he cut, shaped and sorted the slabs of granite using only the white.  Those that had a tinge of green, grey or pink he rejected.  Cormoran had a wife by the name of Cormelian who was a very conscientious and hard working giantess. Now Cormoran was a lazy fellow and he made poor Cormelian carry all the blocks of granite from the quarry to the site while he put his feet up and went to sleep.

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Pixabay – By Efraimstochter – CC0 Public Domain

Cormelian helps

Now Cormelian worked at the task conscientiously putting each slab of white granite in her apron, carrying it to the site and putting it in place.  She soon found it to be very hard work and began thinking that the slabs of green, grey or pink granite would look much prettier than just white.   They were easier for her to get to and not so far to carry and she was beginning to get tired and bored with carrying slabs while her husband snored and slept.  She grew increasingly frustrated and resentful and the work was taking days and days. One day while Cormoran snored she picked up a huge green slab and placing it in her apron and carried it to the growing mound of stones as quickly as she could lest he should wake.   Just as she was about to put the stone in place Cormoran opened one eye saw what she was doing.

 
He was furious with her but instead of raging and shouting crept up behind her and struck her such a blow on the back of her head that she staggered. Her apron string broke and the huge green slab fell to the ground.  There it remains in that exact same spot today and no human could ever move it.  The sea rose or the land sank and the area became inundated with the sea and is how we find it today on the beach.

Cormoran and the Lord of Pengersick

Cormoran had a very hideous appearance.  As well as being very ugly he only had one eye and that was situated in the middle of his forehead.  He had a large mouth with a few yellow, broken teeth left, but most were now gone.   His hideous appearance and sheer size made the local people terrified of him.  He was also the most habitual thief taking whatever he wanted from anyone.

 
All the local people and farmers were frightened of him and he knew it and used to his advantage. When he was hungry he would stride the short distance from the Mount to the mainland and steal the best sheep, pigs and cattle, throwing them over his shoulder and striding home to enjoy eating them. The local farmers suffered sorely from this thievery but were helpless to prevent it.

 
Now it came to pass that one day Cormoran met his match, well more than his match.  The estate of the Lord of Pengersick lay nearby and it was well known that his lordship was away in foreign lands in the east. Cormoran would take advantage of this raiding the estate for the best sheep, pigs and cattle in all of Cornwall. One day Cormoran thought he would raid his lordships livestock so setting out from the Mount he strode across to Pengersick Cove which was the nearest and quickest way to the estate.

 
In the past Cormoran had stolen a great deal of livestock from Pengersick and had no fear of any confrontation with the local people or the lord.   His sheer size and hideous appearance had always frightened them off and he laughed at the thought of it. He feared no human.  He had no time for any of them only had respect for giants like himself, but especially the giant of Trecrobben Hill who was his friend.

 
Now it just so happened that the Lord of Pengersick had returned from his travels in the eastern lands where he was said to have learned much of the ancient arts of magic and sorcery. It is told that by the use of these arts he knew Cormoran was coming and was ready for him.   His servants had told him about the giant’s thieving and his lordship resolved to teach him a lesson.

 
So Cormoran waded ashore thinking he would quickly snaffle a sheep or a cow for an easy meal and stride home to enjoy his ill gotten fayre. Now as he stepped ashore a funny thing happened to him that had never happened before.  He began to feel really queasy in the stomach and his head went all funny inside and he felt confused and bewildered.  He thought perhaps the strong sun had affected him but others say it was the Lord of Pengersick who through magic arts was watching his every move and had thrown a spell on him, but Cormoran had no inkling of this.  All Cormoran knew was he felt decidedly peculiar and unwell but things were about to get very strange indeed.

 
Forcing himself to keep his mind on his goal of stealing his dinner he decided to catch one of his lordship’s cattle that were peacefully grazing nearby.  Still feeling decidedly wobbly he crept up to one and tried to grasp it round the neck.  To his surprise the cow was as slippery as an eel and he began floundering around trying to grasp it but it kept slipping out of his grip.

 
Cormoran was now feeling really woozy and very confused and bewildered.  He began losing his temper and gave up trying to catch the cow.  Instead out of desperation and spite he grabbed its calf, which although also slippery, was smaller and he managed to master it.  Tying its legs together he threw it around his neck and and tried to hurry home to the Mount for a good dinner.

 
He was still feeling strange and funny in his head but as he staggered home he noticed something else strange that was happening.  For his long legs the distance back to his home was not great and he usually managed it with ease but now something was happening he could not explain.   No matter how fast he tried to walk, or how long he made his strides he did not seem to be getting very far.

 
Looking around him the countryside appeared different and peculiar, but he could not say why, or was even sure of where he was.   He was becoming exhausted and seemed to have got nowhere but at last he saw Pengersick Cove, but in the sea was a great black rock which he could not ever remember seeing before.  Confused and bewildered he thought he must have taken a wrong path and he tried to turn around and go back the way he came.

 

To his shock and growing horror he found he could not turn around and could not even walk backwards.  he found himself being dragged towards the black rock by some invisible force.  He laid down and dug his heels in the ground but the rock still dragged him towards it closer and closer.  Soon the invisible force had dragged him near enough for him to stretch his arms out thinking to hold himself from the rock, but he found his hands were now stuck fast to it.  No matter how hard he tugged and pulled and twisted he could not free his hands from the rock.  He was stuck fast and now he was panicking.

 

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Pixabay – By LoggaWiggler – CC0 Public Domain

To make matters worse the calf he was carrying around his neck was also panicking kicking him and bellowing and soon he was covered in cuts and bruises but his hands were stuck to the rock and could do nothing to free the calf or fend it off.  Soon he could feel himself turning cold.  His hands on the stone started to stiffen followed by his arms and his back and then his legs. Soon all his body felt as rigid and as solid as stone, but all the while his senses grew keener enhancing his fear.  Fear gripped him as he thought he would now become petrified solid.

 
It is said the Lord of Pengersick with his magic arts saw all this and was well pleased with the spell he had put on Cormoran and decided to leave him there till the next morning to teach him not to go thieving his livestock.   So Cormoran was left to stand as still and rigid and cold as stone in the bay with the calf kicking and bellowing until morning. The tide came in and the water rose up to his neck and he feared he would drown but he did not and then the tide went out again.

 
In the morning Cormoran was still well and truly stuck to the stone and could not pull or twist his hands free.  The Lord of Pengersick, thinking he would teach him another lesson arrived on his horse and began berating Cormoran and gave him a severe tongue lashing making the giant quake.  However his lordship was not finished with Cormoran and dismounting from his horse gave the giant a severe thrashing with his stick.

 
So severely and so viciously was Cormoran beaten that he screamed and writhed in agony.  He struggling so hard that he pulled the skin from his hands to get free from the rock that had held him and ran into the sea striding rapidly through the waves to his home on St Michael’s Mount.  There he nursed his hands in misery for many a day until they healed.  Never again did Cormoran steal livestock from his lordship’s land though he still raided the other farms in the area.

 
Cormoran’s hands eventually healed up but during that time he made the life of his poor wife, Cormelian, a proper misery.  As well as having sore hands and bruises and weals across his back, his pride had been hurt from the lesson the Lord of Pengersick had given him. He was mortified about what the other giants would think and poor Cormelian had to endure his bad temper for many a day to her dismay.

The death of Cormelian

Now Cormelian was a very kind and good-natured giantess and was always working hard looking after the home and her grumpy, bad-tempered husband.  It was thanks to her that the worst of his bad behaviour was curbed. Her one weakness was her excessive inquisitiveness.   She was not really nosy and she never did anyone any harm, but her curiosity always seemed to get the better of her and this was to prove tragic.

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Pixabay – By goldfaun – CC0 Public Domain

 
Cormoran  was great friends with the Trecrobben Hill giant on the mainland and they would borrow things and lend things of each other as is the way with good friends.  Now when one of them wanted to borrow something they would shout across to each other and one would simply throw the other what was required, which would sail for miles high in the air for the other to catch.

 
Cormoran wore hobnailed boots on his great big feet and one day he could feel a nail sticking in his foot.   He shouted across to his friend to throw him his cobbling-hammer.  His friend duly obliged  and lobbed the hammer high in the air.

 
Cormelian was busy working in the house and hearing Cormoran shouting ran out in her inquisitiveness to see what was happening.  Running out from the dark house into bright sunshine her eyes were dazzled. Although Cormoran shouted a warning she did not see the hammer coming and it struck her full on top of her head killing her instantly.  She fell down in front of Cormoran who let out a great howl and the giant of Trecrobben Hill raced down to see what had happened.

 
The two giants wept and hugged each other and hugged and shook poor Cormelian trying to bring her back to life but she was as dead as stone.  They wailed and cried so much that they caused a gale that wrecked two ships upon the sea and blew the roofs of many of the houses in Marazion but all to no avail and all that was left to do was bury her.

 
Now although Cormoran was a grumpy old giant and very often mistreated Cormelian he loved her in his own way and was never the same after he lost her.  His friend from Trecrobben Hill was also devastated as he had never intended anyone should get hurt let alone killed.  Together the two giants buried Cormelian, but where the grave may be is not known for sure. Some say it was on the Mount in the courtyard, others say the two of them lifted up Chapel Rock and laid her to rest underneath, but others say they gave her to the sea.

Jack the Giant killer

Cormoran met his own death some years later at the hands of a local lad who came to specialize in killing giants and became known as Jack the Giant-Killer.   After the death of his wife Cormoran had no one to rein him in and although he avoided the Lord of Pengersick’s livestock he raided all the other farms in the locality all the more.  One day the local farmers became so annoyed with him they convened a meeting in Penzance to discuss what they should do.

 
After a great deal of arguing and talking an idea was proposed that they all accepted mainly because none could think of anything better.  Over the years Cormoran had accumulated a great deal of treasure that he had stolen from the neighbourhood. It was proposed that anyone who could get rid of Cormoran for ever would be given this considerable treasure trove as a reward.   Although no one believed anyone would be foolhardy enough to fight the giant, or strong enough to defeat him.  Certainly none of them were brave enough to try.   Nevertheless they put out advertisements searching for such a person but no one seemed interested or had the courage to try.

 
Eventually just as they were giving up on the idea to their surprise and amusement a simple farmer’s boy by the name of Jack volunteered to have a go.  Although no one had faith that he could accomplish the task they were desperate so they agreed and he took up the challenge.

 
That night Jack took a small boat and paddled over to the Mount while Cormoran was asleep.  Working fast but quietly he dug a deep pit on the path the giant used everyday that ran down from his home.  As dawn broke he stood outside the giant’s door and blew three loud notes on his horn.  Waking with a start, Cormoran rushed outside to see what all the commotion was.  As soon as he steps out the door Jack starts shouting at him and taunts him.  Furious Cormoran chases Jack down the path, but the rising sun dazzles him and he does not see the pit Jack had dug.

 
Jack, knowing where the pit is leaps over it as Cormoran is about to grab him and the giant blinded by the sun falls into it to his surprise.  Turning quickly Jack drives his pickaxe into the skull of the giant killing him instantly and that was the end of Cormoran the Giant of St Michael’s Mount. But for every ending there is a beginning.  Jack claims his reward and that is how he began his career as the famous giant-killer.

 

Return of the giants

 

These days there are no more giants in or around Mount’s Bay though tales of them remain.  Perhaps one day the water will recede from the bay and the forest will return and giants will again live in it and on the Mount, but I don’t suppose the local farmers would be very pleased!

© 24/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 24/01/2016 zteve t evans